Ireland overcome battling France in Six Nations
Ireland 30 France 21
Published 07/02/2009 | 19:21
Ireland edged an enthralling RBS 6 Nations clash at Croke Park to claim a rare victory over France that underlines their status as genuine title contenders.
Jamie Heaslip, Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy ran in brilliant tries as the Irish registered their first triumph against Les Bleus since March 2003, a sequence spanning seven Tests.
O'Driscoll's try was particularly pleasing with the Ireland skipper showing the acceleration and finishing ability that seemed to be on the wane in recent seasons.
Lions selectors will certainly have enjoyed the score and a key moment in the match that could yet signal a return to form for the 30-year-old.
Man of the match Heaslip will have done his own chances of making the tour to South Africa no harm with an athletic finish from a similar position that emboldened Declan Kidney's men.
Ronan O'Gara chipped in with 15 points as the Irish, justifying their status as match favourites, landed a crucial early blow in the Six Nations title race.
So often the stumbling block, France were swept aside in a clinical final quarter that saw Ireland display cool heads to claim a precious scalp.
Further satisfaction could be taken from the knowledge this was a dangerous French side that threatened to overhaul their rivals in a breathless encounter that gripped Croke Park.
Number eight Imanol Harinordoquy and winger Maxime Medard crossed, the former rounding off a brilliant passage of play, while the boot of Lionel Beauxis did the rest for Les Bleus.
Strong early running yielded a penalty for O'Gara and Ireland were also able to take comfort in their early defence with Sebastien Chabal flattened by swarms of tacklers.
France were being harried at every turn but Julien Malzieu and Clement Poitrenaud, attacking from a scrum in their 22, almost wriggled through as the initiative changed hands.
Ireland survived a five-metre free-kick and France continued to press with a quickly-taken line-out that saw Chabal exact revenge with a bulldozing run.
And Chabal was involved when France surged ahead with a magnificent try in the 13th minute.
Harinordoquy punched the first hole in Ireland's defence when he steamrollered over O'Gara, who had obviously been targeted as the weak link.
A clever kick from Malzieu continued the move which openside Thierry Dusautoir was on hand to rescue by gathering the ball and feeding Yannick Jauzion.
Possession was recycled to Chabal out wide on the left and the Sale lock combined with winger Medard to send Harinordoquy over.
Beauxis converted but O'Gara landed a second penalty shortly after to keep Ireland snapping at their heels.
Ireland surged ahead in the 34th minute with a try that nearly matched France's for brilliance.
Kearney and Tommy Bowe made the initial inroads but it was Heaslip who did the telling damage, accelerating into space and weaving his way to the line where he fended off last-ditch tackles from Poitrenaud and Medard.
O'Gara converted but there was still time before the interval for Beauxis to land a drop goal.
The second half was two minutes old when Ireland stormed further ahead with O'Driscoll showing vision and acceleration to cross under the posts.
Quick line-out ball was fed to O'Driscoll who, from a near standing start, raced between the narrow gap separating Beauxis and Jauzion before wrong-footing Medard to score.
O'Gara converted to put Ireland 10 points ahead but France struck back seven minutes later, Beauxis chipping out wide for Medard to cross in the corner.
Les Bleus were clinically reeling their opponents in, Beauxis sending over his second drop goal as a grandstand finished beckoned.
But in the final quarter, it was Ireland who emerged the dominant side.
D'Arcy, on for Paddy Wallace, side-stepped his way over from eight yards out in the 66th minute to put them back in control.
Beauxis and O'Gara swapped penalties in the final five minutes, but the home fans had already begun celebrating a famous victory knowing Ireland's lead was unassailable.